Give Yourself Some Options: The Perks of a Hybrid Cloud

Privately hosting your own cloud has its downsides, as does putting everything on a cloud provider like Microsoft Azure. But the hybrid cloud, which combines elements of each approach, is a great way to maximize the benefits of two types of cloud computing.

If it feels like most of your IT budget is going to the cloud in one way or another, welcome to the club.

According to Building Trust in a Cloudy Sky [registration], a recent McAfee report, more than 80 percent of respondents said they are following a cloud-first strategy, meaning that 80 percent of their IT budgets would be spent on some form of cloud services in the next 12 months.

But how that money gets spent is a different question. Like actual clouds, cloud computing is often nebulous—and not every type of cloud setup works for every organization.

But the shape of the cloud for many organizations is starting to look a lot more sophisticated as a hybrid approach gains steam.

Admittedly, hybrid clouds, which mix corporate-owned remote storage with outside solutions such as Amazon Web Services, aren’t new—I last covered the topic in 2014—but they faded from the conversation in favor of private cloud solutions or even public clouds. Hybrids have made a bit of a comeback in recent years.

That might be because of their potential as a key building block for organizational infrastructure.

According to the McAfee report, 93 percent of organizations use some form of cloud services, but nearly half of respondents (49 percent) had slowed down cloud adoption because of a lack of technical skills.

But the survey revealed a major shift to hybrid cloud architecture in a number of sectors, with hybrid solutions jumping from 19 percent of cloud installations in 2015 to 57 percent in 2016. Insurance and retail-related industries were the most likely to use hybrid cloud solutions, while 28 percent of service-related organizations, including hotels and leisure, used only public clouds—more than any other group.

“The past year saw a dramatic shift in cloud architecture, from private-only or public-only to predominantly hybrid,” the report notes, adding that an organization’s size was a factor in this jump. More than half of respondents had more than 1,000 employees, which was more than the prior year.

Large organizations tend to be the drivers of cloud strategies. The Power of Hybrid Cloud, an IDC white paper from earlier this year [PDF], notes that 79.7 percent of organizations with 1,000 or more employees had a hybrid cloud strategy in the works—either already in place or planned to go within the next year or two.

Hybrid cloud offers a number of benefits for enterprise-size organizations like associations. To put it simply, it gives them access to the breadth of services that Amazon or Microsoft provide, while offering the cost savings of using a private server rack.

“Hybrid cloud has the opportunity to provide the best of both public and private cloud while eliminating or mitigating their disadvantages,” the white paper states. “A hybrid cloud architecture can offer a high level of security, control, performance, and compliance while maintaining flexibility.”

What does that all mean in action? To give you an idea, here are some considerations for thinking about how you might use cloud resources for your data:

How big is the ask? Sometimes, you run into an issue so big, but mundane, that it simply makes sense to make it someone else’s problem. An association management system, or AMS, is a great example of this. Considering the complexity of that kind of infrastructure, it may not be something you want on your own servers.

Is it something you can do better? Sure, you could host an email server internally, but Google and Microsoft are way better at doing that, and it might save you some headaches to ask them to do it instead. Likewise, does it make sense for your organization to set up virtual machines when a cloud provider can do it with a lot less heartache? Putting these functions on the public cloud opens your team up to focus on the things unique to your organization.

Is the use case mission-critical? Amazon Web Services is great, until it goes down—something that happened this year when a server outage affected millions of sites. Clearly, that’s not the goal, but it does highlight the risks of public clouds compared with private ones. With a private cloud, you’re the only client.

What kind of data are you storing? Is it personal? Does it need encryption? Is the code custom? Or is it the kind of thing that is created daily as part of a standard production process? Is the material in danger of theft? And is it something that a public cloud provider will account for? For example: Cloud platforms are doing their best to keep security in mind—for example, both Amazon and Microsoft have agreed to follow compliance rules set by the Motion Picture Association of America. But not every use case will have that kind of support behind it.

In each of these cases, the ability to choose the best home for a certain type of data makes the hybrid approach worth looking into.

To put it another way: Going hybrid means you have some flexibility, and that’s something any large organization should be looking for.

(JackyLeung/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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